I love the rich, slightly smoky flavour and the soft texture of aubergine. Aubergines are so useful in curry dishes, they are fantastic roasted and of course ratatouille is a classic and delicious summer stew.
This is a quick pasta dish that is great in the campervan and might not even take 30 minutes to rustle up. The nuts give it a tasty crunch and the chilli adds a hint of a kick. It feels a bit decadent as pine nuts are not the cheapest of the nuts and seeds and you could substitute cashews or almonds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds or whatever you have in the cupboard really but pine nuts are good.
Ingredients for two people
One aubergine, stalk removed, sliced and diced
Glug of olive oil
100g nuts or seeds of your choice
2 garlic cloves crushed
200g cream / yoghurt / crème fraîche / sour cream – you can use vegan or non-vegan versions
1 or 2 fresh chillies de-seeded and finely chopped. The number will depend on your taste and the type. You can also use a sprinkling of chilli flakes
Fresh parsley chopped [optional]
Your favourite and usual amount of pasta, I use penne
In a wok or pan heat the olive oil and add the aubergine chunks. They will quickly soak up the oil. [You can sprinkle the aubergine chunks with salt for half an hour, rinse and pat dry before you cook them to reduce the oil they take up but this is a nuisance in the campervan.] Keep the aubergine chunks moving so they don’t stick to the pan and allow them to brown slightly and soften then add the pine nuts or other nuts / seeds you are using and allow these to lightly toast.
If you have another ring it is time to put your favourite pasta into boiling water now.
Add the crushed garlic and chilli to the aubergine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, frying everything for a minute more.
Add the creamy substance you are using and warm through on a low heat. When the pasta is cooked, drain and stir through the creamy aubergine mixture with the fresh chopped parsley, if you have this. Serve and enjoy, maybe with a good Italian red wine.
Cuckoos are probably the easiest bird to identify by their call but I’ve never seen one in the feather and a sighting has been on my wish list for a few years. My bird-watching partner doesn’t hear too well and they have to be close before he can catch the gentle sound of a cuckoo’s call, even with his hearing aids in. I tell him when one is around but it is sad that he often misses this distinctive sound of spring.
We pack everything for trips to Scotland. The shorts are mixed in with long trousers and t-shirts squeeze in with jumpers. It’s just as well really as May in Scotland can give you three seasons in one day! There is little certainty about what weather will greet us each morning with temperatures ranging from freezing to balmy. Campers need to come to Scotland prepared.
In the before Covid-19 world we would usually travel to Europe in May and June but with that off the agenda Scotland is our next favourite destination. Travelling through a UK that is now trying to find a way to live with Covid-19 [as we realise that a world without Covid-19 isn’t an option in the short and medium term] is interesting. So along with our three season clothing we packed reusable masks and hand sanitiser. Below are some highlights from our first couple of weeks touring this wonderful country.
Moffat is normally just a quick halt on our way further north for us. We visit our favourite cafe, Cafe Ariete and buy some delicious pancakes from the bakery. On this trip we decided to take things slowly and spend a couple of days here and it turns out there is more to the town, although we did visit the cafe and bakery! We had a great walk up a hill for views over the town, explored it’s pretty streets and treated ourselves to excellent takeaway wood-fired oven pizza from a business handily placed by the campsite.
The walk along the old railway line and onto the shores of Loch Tay from Killin is full of surprises. From the bright-pink blossom in the cemetery to the ruined castle; the evidence of beavers in the wetlands to the banks of bluebells under the trees and the open views to the mountains across Loch Tay, there is so much to enjoy. I blushed with embarrassment when the Killin campsite warden recognised me [and the Blue Bus] as an MMM writer. We had a riverside pitch and sat by the ‘van watching a pair of oystercatchers on a nest and sandpipers flying by. While we were here we took the ‘van out to the Ben Lawers car park. Ben Lawers is a great walk but my walking partner wanted to bag a couple of brutal big Munros nearby. The highlight of the day for me happened back at the car park, not because all the exhausting walking was over, but because a cuckoo flew in front of us and obligingly sat on a signpost waiting to be identified. Although I had heard cuckoos every day on this trip, this was the first time ever I had seen one!
Glencoe was as stunning as it always is and the weather was fine enough for a walk. The only other person on Beinn Odhar was a charming and chatty man from Scotland’s central belt. He had worked for a travel firm for over 20 years and, after six months of furlough due to Covid-19, had been made redundant. The country is packed with tales of people who have unexpectedly become job seekers in the last 12 months and the plight of each one breaks a tiny chip off my heart.
In Fort William we hit the shops before heading up to Morvich. It is many years since we’d last been on the shores of Loch Duich. We had driven up to the area in an old Vauxhall Viva that got us north but couldn’t quite make the trip home and we came back in an AA breakdown lorry with the Viva riding in shame on the back. Fortunately the Blue Bus is made of tougher stuff than an old Vauxhall!
In nearby Ardelve we found Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a treasure trove of bread, cakes and other goodies. If I lived near here I would quickly get very fat! Manuela’s has a cafe too and a garden with a collection of human-size wooden houses straight out of a fairystory. Make sure you visit when you’re in the area.
From the campsite we climbed A’ Glas Bheinn, a steep craggy mountain above Morvich which gave us views across to Skye. On another day we drove to Letterfearn and walked by the Loch, stopping often to admire the view to Eilean Donan Castle. In the woodland we walked through bluebells and marsh marigolds to a ruined broch. The stones were mostly still in place to a height above the door, including the heavy triangular lintel. Inside we climbed between the walls up the steps for a higher vantage point across the loch.
On this trip we have stayed on club sites, independent sites and overnight car parks. The campsites all had a different take on Covid-19 restrictions. Some promoted common sense, some haven’t opened their facilities at all and the Caravan and Motorhome Club continue with their band system. Every day on their sites I meet a baffled camper outside the toilets wondering what to do with a band! It is certainly a great conversation starter and maybe the club has a secret mission to bring us all together via friendship bands.
We only had two nights at Roxton but quickly settled into this peaceful and welcoming Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location. It was such a stunning spot and idyllic site it was really too good to keep to myself. Near to the small town of Barton-upon-Humber and by the hamlet of Barrow Haven, this campsite offers fantastic walking and wildlife.
We were warmly welcomed by the couple that own and run Roxton and they were around if we needed them but were never intrusive. This lovely site is in a large enclosed garden and is a credit to them with level and tidy grass and squirrels and birds in the trees. There is a caravan storage area that is accessed through the campsite but the comings and goings were minimal and never disturbed us. We couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to have this wonderful site to ourselves.
Just a few minutes walk from the campsite is Barrow Haven nature reserve managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The reserve is mostly disused flooded clay pits that now have reed beds and an abundance of wildlife. Walk between the pools to the banks of the River Humber and the Humber Bridge stretches across the wide river to your left. The sunset across these pools with the Humber Bridge as a backdrop is a beautiful sight.
We walked along the Humber towards Barton-upon-Humber. The sky was blue and in the sunshine the Humber Bridge dominated our view. The River Humber was to our right and numerous flooded clay pits to our left. There was lots of bird song, particularly reed warblers and the world felt spacious under the big skies. There are also occasional remnants of the industry here and a still working red-clay tile manufacturer. There used to be many more.
In Barton upon Humber there is a visitor’s centre, an old tile works and The Ropewalk arts centre. Due to Covid-19 restrictions none of these were open on our visit, surely an excuse to return! We found somewhere for coffee in the twn and then continued along the Humber by Far Ings National Nature Reserve another area of pools. We turned inland back to Barton upon Humber and picked up a footpath across fields towards Barrow Haven.
As we reached the lane to the campsite, the weather was looking more unsettled but was still dry so we decided to by-pass the campsite and carry on to Barrow Haven and The Haven Inn for a swift half. We had obviously pushed our luck as a short shower caught us as we hurried back along the Humber path.
That evening was a spectacular sunset and we walked back out to the River Humber. This time we were certain that the low fog horn sound we could hear from the reeds was a bittern. The first time we had ever heard one! The bittern and the deep orange sun setting behind the Humber Bridge were a magical end to our stay.
A bank holiday fell during our four week tour around England in April and May and we needed somewhere where we wouldn’t get in the way of the working population who wanted to relax and enjoy the long weekend and where we could find a hint of tranquility. An adult-only, no facilities campsite on the south shores of Rutland Water fitted the bill perfectly.
The Paddock is run by a friendly family who keep the site exceptionally neat and tidy. The grass is cut short on the pitches and these are marked out clearly and are spacious. The owners welcome all visitors and provide brochures about the local area. They also own a country pub in the nearby village of North Luffenham that is about three miles away. The campsite has a view over Rutland Water but the owners have even built a raised viewing platform so that the view is even better!
For us this campsite ticked two boxes. Just a short walk away is a Wildlife Trust nature reserve which has a hide overlooking an osprey nest used by a breeding pair of ospreys. The second attraction is the round Rutland Water cycle route which passes the campsite gates.
On our first day we walked down to the nature reserve and paid £5 each as concessions to enter [adult admission is £6]. It isn’t far to walk along the paths to the osprey hides and there are four hides in total. In the third hide a Wildlife Trust warden gave us plenty of interesting background about the ospreys and Rutland Water. It was a treat to have great views of the two ospreys; they were close enough to see with the naked eye and clear in the binoculars. When we arrived the male was sitting on the eggs on the huge nest that sits on a platform in the water and the female was on a nearby post. Boats are kept out of this corner of Rutland Water and this helps keep the ospreys safe. This isn’t the only osprey nest on Rutland Water but it is the easiest to see. The Wildlife Trust have cameras on the ospreys and you can watch them online. While we were there the two birds swapped positions and I watched on the TV screen in the hide to get a look at the eggs as they made the change over.
Of course ospreys are hard to beat but we also saw gadwall and teal and sedge warblers were noisily calling around the third hide. Swallows and our first swifts of the year were here too and at the campsite white throats hung around the hedges.
There is another nature reserve beyond Manton at Egleton. This larger reserve has lagoons and meadows and lots of hides. Your day ticket will get you into this reserve too.
In the afternoon we walked to the oddly named village of Wing across the fields and up and down the valley. In this picturesque village we found the turf maze before walking onto Manton and beyond to a field where there was once a medieval village. There is little to see today, except for a handsome private house that has been renovated but we could make out the furrows and ridges in the ground. Back at Manton we had two halves of Osprey beer [of course] sitting outside The Horse and Jockey before heading back.
It was a glorious sunny morning when we cycled the 17 miles anti-clockwise around Rutland Water. You can make your ride about six miles further by cycling to the end of the peninsular and back. This cycle ride is mostly on easy to follow shared-use paths that, on such a fine day, were busy with walkers and other cyclists of all ages and abilities. The first undulating section to the stunning Normanton Church, over the dam and to Barnsdale, where the woods were carpeted with sweet smelling bluebells, was particular popular. There are plenty of cafes to stop at for drinks and food and Oakham isn’t far off the route on the northern shore if you want more choice. On the north side of Rutland Water the cycle way is near to the road in places and is less popular with other walkers. As we came into the village of Manton and neared the end of our ride, grey clouds descended and we were lucky to get back without getting drenched.
Rutland Water was the perfect spot for a quiet bank holiday for us and The Paddock was a lovely base that allowed us to make the most of what the area has to offer.
There are lots of choices when you buy a campervan and an important one is size and whether you need a bathroom or not. When we bought Blue Bus Three we had the experience of living with our two previous ‘vans and a bathroom had sneaked onto our priority list. While Blue Bus One had been a simple traditional VW conversion and merely had a porta potti in a cupboard, Blue Bus Two had felt luxurious with a screened-off flushing toilet at the back. The layout of our middle campervan had worked really well for us but we wanted to try going the whole way and buying a campervan with a small room that would be dedicated to our ablutions.
We only have a campervan [no car] and so also never wanted our ‘van to be too large. The Devon Tempest is still under 5.5m and, although we think it is enormous, is fairly petit by today’s standards but the converters have managed to fit in a whole bathroom. We made our choice but always in the back of our minds we wondered if we would actually use the bathroom or would it just become a neat storeroom that we hardly used for its real purpose.
From the start, the toilet and sink have had plenty of use and the privacy in the bathroom makes this a usable and fairly comfortable space. It was the shower that we never made full use of, the number of times we had used it before 2020 and coronavirus could be counted on two hands and we had occasionally discussed if it was worth having. On our camping trips we usually wild camp or free camp for just one night between campsites and on those nights we would manage with a spit-wash at the sink. The shower was a great fallback if a site had no facilities or the showers were cold or unsanitary. Then along came Covid-19 and all manner of restrictions on campsites and suddenly carrying a shower around with us didn’t seem so stupid. Last summer we used the shower more than ever and we have just returned from a four-week tour where showers were closed on every campsite we stayed on. How has that been?
I think the bathroom in the Tempest is better than many, particularly because of the ‘proper’ sink [not a fold up one] that is set in a worktop. This is always there, it feels substantial and is effortless to use. The only problem it has given us is the tiny plug; this kept popping out of the plug hole just when you had filled it with water! We shaved slivers off the plastic plug and this has helped and when we don’t want a shower, having an all-over flannel wash at the sink is easy.
Having a shower takes a bit more planning than a wash but it is such a refreshing feeling after a full rinse within the warmth and comfort of your own ‘van and so it is worth doing right. The first step is make sure we have heated up the hot water. We find it is best if we put this on an hour or so before we shower, any later and we get a tepid shower which is so disappointing. We have experimented with heating the water to 40C and 60C [the only two options on our ‘van] and find that 40C works best for us. We are keen to use as little water as possible and 40C is the perfect temperature with the hot tap fully on. This means there is no need to waste water while we adjust the tap to add cold water to get a acceptable temperature.
Once the water is heated up and the campervan heating on if it is cold, the next thing to do is remove anything from the bathroom that could suffer if it got wet. We take out the towels that hang on the back of the bathroom door and the toilet roll. Our bathroom did come with a shower curtain but we both loath these clingy things and don’t use it. This does mean the bathroom leaks slightly during our showers so we move any mats in front of the door.
Then it comes to the showering. The main objective for a campervan shower is to get clean while using as little water as possible. We don’t want to be filling the tank all the time, or emptying the waste tank and it is only fair to leave enough hot water for the second person in the shower. And so, with the shower on we get wet all over, then switch off the shower. After soaping up with a flannel we can quickly rinse off. This way we keep our shower usage as low as between two and three litres of water each [on hair washing night we use more].
My top tip when you are having a shower is don’t drop anything! In a small ‘van the bathroom is never going to be spacious and it’s best to take care never to drop your flannel or the soap as bending down to pick anything up in such a small space is nigh on impossible even for a short, reasonably trim person.
Because we don’t use much water on a campsite we can capture it in a bucket under the waste tap, rather than filling the waste tank. This is much easier to dispose of cleanly on site.
After we have both showered we wipe the whole shower room down with a J-cloth to dry it thoroughly and then keep the door open to let it air for an hour or so. Using our campervan shower means that both of us and our bathroom are always clean!
In Lock Down One we explored our local area and discovered a bonanza of fantastic walks around Morecambe. Lock Down Two was mostly spent watching our new kitchen being installed so we didn’t go far. In the cold winter months of Lock Down Three we once again set off on some local walks. I crave new places and sights and so, as well as the familiar, we searched out new places to walk, finding variety and interest as we mixed up the coast with woodland and canal walking. Here is a flavour of what we found.
On the Fringe of Morecambe Bay from Carnforth to Morecambe
This walk has been on my list of things to do for some time and a sunny and frosty day in February was the ideal opportunity. We took the bus to Carnforth, walking back along the coastal path. This is a level walk, the navigation fairly straightforward and is about seven miles.
From Carnforth you are soon out on the salt marshes at the River Keer estuary. I enjoy this green coastal landscape and it was fun on a sunny morning to meander around the pools and channels. Across Morecambe Bay we could see Cumbria and the Lake District and behind us was Warton Crag. This is a wild landscape that feels cut off and we didn’t meet many people until we were near Red Bank Farm and the parking area there. After Red Bank Farm, if you follow the rocky shore you can climb up to the white stone memorial to the 21 [at least] cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay on 5 February 2004. If the tide is high, or you find walking along the rocky shore tricky, then the path over the fields of sheep from Red Bank is lovely and you can see the memorial over the fence.
Walking by Hest Bank you might spot the big house that featured in The Bay series two on ITV before you reach the car park and Jo ‘n’ Lees By the Sea cafe, a good refreshment stop. You are now on the Morecambe Promenade and for us it is an easy walk back home.
The Sea, a Park, a Canal & Woodland all in a Few Miles
This walk is only a few hours but in that short time packs in plenty of variety with a walk along Morecambe Bay, a wander through Happy Mount Park, a stroll along the canal and even a turn around the woodland off Barley Cop Lane. We walk it in either direction to add a bit of variety to those hard-to-tell-apart lock down days.
Is there ever a better name for a park than Happy Mount? From home, we will walk to the sea and the Promenade and walk around Morecambe Bay to Happy Mount Park on the edge of town. As we follow our noses through the park, which is usually busy with families on a fine day, we pass the cafe on our right, the train on our left, the Japanese Garden on our right and into the play area. From here you can find a route through the hedge onto the woodland path, turn left and skirt around the golf course then go firstly over the railway line and then underneath [it can be muddy here]. You are now on a track that crosses the canal.
Join the canal towpath and walk towards Lancaster. This is an idyllic rural stretch of the canal and we have spotted a kingfisher here but, even if you are not that lucky, you will certainly see some ducks. Leaving the canal at Folly Lane we walk by the farm, around the fields and under the Bay Gateway turning right onto Barley Cop Lane. If we have time we will take a turn around the earthy woodland at the junction, particularly now the paths have been resurfaced. Then we head home through Torrisholme.
Looking for Seals along Heysham Harbour Wall & South Jetty
Although we have walked to Heysham Head and Half Moon Bay many times, we had never explored the other side of the port, near the two Heysham nuclear power stations. We walked along Money Close Lane from the junction to the port, turning right into the car park and then left onto the gravel path through the Heysham Nature Reserve that skirts around the two nuclear power stations. This is a grassy area with trees and ponds that is popular with local dog walkers. We crossed a lane and picked up paths towards the sea, emerging between the power stations and the Ocean Edge Holiday Park. This holiday park certainly is on the edge of the Irish Sea and has unrivalled sea views but its publicity doesn’t mention the EDF nuclear power stations that hum gently alongside the park.
We had timed our arrival here for around an hour before high tide as we were hoping one of the seals that are occasionally spotted in the sea here would be around. The sea hadn’t quite covered the rocks below us and oystercatchers and redshanks perched among the surf and a group of wigeon dabbled in the shallow water. Turning to the right, ahead of us was an impressive wide concrete sea wall leading to the mouth of Heysham Harbour. The wall makes a dramatic sight under a blue sky with the power station to one side and the sea to the other. We set off walking the over half a mile along the wall to the squat lighthouse and the wooden remains of the South Jetty.
At the lighthouse we sat and had our flask of coffee looking out, unsuccessfully, for seals. We could see the ships in the harbour and we watched cormorants and gulls on the top level of the wooden frame of the old South Jetty. On the lower levels were a group of tiny knot and we watched with fascination as the sea level rose and the small birds had to flutter up to higher struts. In the distance we spotted the bulk of a ship from the Isle of Man which powered across the sea and was soon dominating our view as it came through the narrow harbour entrance.
The only option is to walk back the same way, no hardship as this is such an unusual and exhilerating spot, with or without seals.
Around the History of Sunderland Point
It was a frosty day when we took the bus to Middleton and walked down Carr Lane to the coast and the sandy Potts’ Corner car park. This is really the obvious starting point for car drivers planning a walk around Sunderland Point and we had merely added 1.5 miles by taking the bus.
Where you can walk will constantly depend on the tides around Sunderland Point so take care, don’t put yourself in danger and check the tide times. The tide was on the ebb while we were walking and we could follow the shore of salt marsh and pebbles, strewn with trees and branches. Eventually you will pass the turning onto The Lane that would take you straight to the village. Carry on by the coast and just beyond here is what is known as Sambo’s Grave, a poignant reminder of Lancashire’s part in the slave trade. The grave is a memorial to a young man from Africa who is thought to have arrived as a slave in 1736. Becoming ill he died and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1795 a local schoolteacher raised money to erect a memorial to the young man. Before carrying on, stop and pay your respects, read the elegy and admire the painted stones and maybe even flowers that decorate the memorial.
Walking around Sunderland Point, where the River Lune flows into the Irish Sea, is to be somewhere that feels as remote as it is possible to be on the Lancashire coast. Walking at sea level, the view across the river to Glasson Dock stretches away into the distance and you will catch any breeze on your back. My sense of isolation disappeared as we reached the handsome Georgian houses of Sunderland but this is no usual village. The road to this sleepy village of around 30 houses is cut off twice a day by the high tide. It was once a busy place for ships to unload or wait for the tide into the port of Lancaster.
From the village we followed the dike to the road and walked to Overton where the bus terminates. If you are heading back to Potts’ Corner car park there are plenty of footpaths that will take you there.
Combining the Lancaster Canal & the River Lune
Eager for a walk that took us somewhere new on a sunny day, we set off on our usual route to the Lancaster Canal and headed into Lancaster, over the Lune aqueduct. So far so normal. On this occasion we carried on through Lancaster and into a lovely wooded section of canal around Aldcliffe. We walked as far as Stodday where we picked up surprisingly busy lanes around the sewage works that took us to the footpath and cycle way from Lancaster to Conder Green that follows the River Lune.
We stopped at a picnic bench for our lunch and then, as we weren’t cycling, took the riverside path along the dike, rather than the lane and cycle route, so that we could enjoy the views over the River Lune and across to the pub at Snatchems. Apparently there used to be a ferry across the river to the pub and as we walked we wished that still existed. Skirting the wetland pools we emerged into the new housing along the quay road. We crossed the River Lune by Carlisle Bridge that carries the west coast train line and has a pedestrian walkway that takes you high above the river.
From here the cycle and pedestrian path back to Morecambe is an easy walk home. For us this walk is about 12 miles.
Morecambe Prom Updated
Morecambe is dotted with paintings on walls and sculptures of birds. A new addition to the Morecambe art scene has recently made walking along the seafront in Morecambe even more interesting. Local artists have been painting panels to cover the plain blue panels that surround an area of waste ground next to the supermarkets.
The photograph above shows the first four colourful painted panels. There are now more and I find it is worth checking on every visit to the sea as another may have been added since we were last there.
Well done to all the people who are putting in considerable time and effort to brighten up this part of Morecambe.
Once again I am out enjoying the excitement of the open road with new and unexpected things around every corner. It has been a long time coming. Being out in the fresh air all day and walking with family and friends, sharing jokes and memories. These simple things have been my cure for the lock down blues.
I stood watching a moorhen with five tiny chicks pottering around a small inlet into a pond and wanted to weep with the joy of the moment. Nearby a Canada goose sat still and calm on a nest watched over by their alert mate. These and other experiences have re-wired my brain and woken up my senses, both dulled by lock down repeats.
We didn’t go far for our first few nights away once we were allowed. Burrs Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Greater Manchester is well placed to allow us to meet up with some people we’ve missed. A 30 minute walk into Bury and we were soon sitting outside Katsouris wonderful cafe eating tasty Greek food and catching up with an old friend from Salford as if the last 12 months hadn’t even happened. Later, our son and daughter-in-law drove up to Burrs Country Park and we walked through the countryside with them and enjoyed coffee and cake from the cafe as if everything was normal. Inside my heart was singing.
With a day to ourselves we cycled along the number six National Cycle Route to Salford and Clifton Country Park. The sun kept on shining and this surprisingly green and rural route turned up a reed warbler nibbling seed heads on the banks of the old canal, roe deer hiding in tall reeds, their erect pointed ears giving them away and a friendly cafe in Radcliffe that served us a delicious white chocolate and cranberry iced bun under a blue sky.
Moving on to Crowden we packed sandwiches and a flask and walked some of the Pennine Way. The weather was perfect and it was this and two other walkers who were the talk of the trail. We had wondered if anyone was walking this Long Distance Footpath at the moment and along came a young couple with a tiny baby who were spending their joint parenting leave backpacking the whole route. We admired their energy and wished them well.
After a week being back in the big wide world we had our first pint of draft beer in a sunny pub garden in Castleton. My drinking partner proclaimed that his pint of Chieftain IPA from Ireland was the best he’d ever had but that might be more to do with the months without a proper beer!
As we all emerge from Lock Down Three, we will be keen to focus on looking forward to the new world and the ‘new normal’ as it is called. I am the sort of person that looks to the future, rather than the past and I certainly don’t want to think back to the dark days between January and March this year. I have come through all the lock downs and tiers physically healthy but mentally mangled. Lock downs never got any easier and I found Lock Down Three particularly tough and lonely.
Readers might live in a friendly street where your neighbours smiled across the road as they clapped on a Thursday night in Lock Down One and continue to check in regularly via a Street WhatsApp Group. I imagine this is the sort of street that, in Before Coronavirus days, held a communal street party. I don’t know where these streets are but in all the places I have lived [just seven streets in five places so a limited sample] I have never experienced anywhere like this and mostly hear about them in the media and soap operas. Do they really exist in the real world?
Thursday nights at 20.00 during Lock Down One were quiet here on our Morecambe road. No one shamed us into going into our front garden to clap for the NHS. We were therefore taken by surprise when a Zoom call with two friends in a wealthy part of Greater Manchester had to be cut short so that they could join in the clapping. They risked being socially shunned by the neighbourhood if they didn’t show their faces!
Wherever we have lived we have always got to know our neighbours but we had only lived in our Morecambe home for four months when we were confined to its four walls. We had met some people at tai chi classes and were on chatting terms with the residents either side of our house but there was still some way to go to feeling a part of the community. Although the sunny weather during Lock Down One meant we did meet a couple more neighbours from across the street while we were out in the front garden I certainly wouldn’t say that it was a chance to settle into a community. Most people around us are retired and the majority of our neighbours are single households so we are surrounded by a generation who are terrified of catching Covid-19 and who kept themselves to themselves. Any chances to get to know them were fleeting and superficial. The only positive in the first lock down was spending time with our immediate next door neighbour. We saw him pretty much everyday and with all the time in the world we enjoyed long chats over the fence.
Lock Down Three has been a totally different scenario. Even our chatty neighbour was curled up on his sofa in the dark winter months of January and February and we have hardly seen anyone. Thank goodness in January our tai chi teacher eventually got to grips with Zoom and for the last three months our weeks have revolved around his entertaining Wednesday classes.
When we moved to Morecambe we thought we would meet people in our new town by joining some clubs or groups, attending some events and seeking out like-minded folk. The steps we had made towards this before Lock Down One kicked in were small. It isn’t that I want to be part of a community WhatsApp group but Covid-19 has certainly made settling into a new town more difficult.
We know we are lucky to have each other, lock downs have been very lonely for single people. But life has been so different for everyone. For the most part, and for the first time in our lives, geography has determined our social life. Most, but not all of our good friends are in the north west of England but as lock downs and tiers came and went we were constantly cancelling plans. In Lock Down Three we couldn’t even see two long-standing and close friends who live locally. In normal times we would meet as a foursome for a walk but the rules only allowed two people, not two households, to even take a stroll in the open air.
Lock Downs have been lonely experiences for me and they must have been miserable for others. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I always look forward, rather than back. This can be positive and also a cause of anxiety. Even as we take the small steps to a restriction-free life, in a corner of my mind is a dread that another lock down will come out of the blue! And so, I am seizing the day and can’t wait to be back on the road again on Monday 12 April.
As Lock Down Three restrictions eased on Monday 29 March 2021, our priorities were to meet our son and daughter-in-law and visit the Lake District. I was impatient to see them but made myself wait until Tuesday 30th and a better weather forecast for the four of us to meet up and hike up some of the 214 Wainwrights. The day’s three Wainwrights were ones we had climbed before but both our son and daughter-in-law have taken up Wainwright Bagging and the walk included two new fells for them to tick off. I didn’t care where we were, I was just so happy to be with them both again. I was grateful that they were prepared to spend their first day back in the hills waiting for me as I huffed and puffed up the slopes and gingerly straggled behind on the steep rocky descents. We walked up Heron Pike, Great Rigg and Fairfield, chasing the low cloud that magically rose before us as we ascended, making it a glorious and unforgettable walk. There was a lot to catch up on and we talked about all manner of nonsense, about hydrogen cars, shared friends, Line of Duty [of course], plans for the rest of the year and recommended books and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole day!
Being able to meet our son and daughter-in-law and take a walk with them, catching up, laughing at familiar jokes, sharing memories and making new ones, sitting by a tarn having a picnic lunch together and trying to name the surrounding mountains are all things we used to take for granted. It has been a long three months since we have been able to do these simple things. For three dark months it has been just the two of us walking locally and so I was keen to make the most of the next step forward from Lock Down Three and start to feel as if I was living again.
Not content with one day of walking in company, the next we met two long-standing friends. My aching legs, after the steep descent from Fairfield, were happy to have an easier walk around the gorgeous Silverdale coast and through Eaves Wood. I was pleased to find that my ability to chatter hadn’t been lost in lock down and I barely drew breath for the whole four hours. The day wasn’t without incident and will, no doubt, become part of our collective memory, ‘Do you remember when we all nearly drowned?’ It was a high spring tide and we sat in the sunshine having our picnic lunch, looking across the sea from a low rock in The Cove near Silverdale. We were chatting as we looked over the expanse of Morecambe Bay to Grange over Sands and remarked on the speed of the incoming tide. Looking around we suddenly realised that our route back to the shore was cut off by water! While those with longer legs could traverse the cliff to return to dry land, I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and laughing had my first paddle of the year through knee-high water! It was such a warm and sunny day my feet dried naturally as we finished our lunch sprawled out on the pebbly shore.
The sun kept shining and the Lake District fells and more Wainwright Fells were calling. The next day we drove back up the M6 and set off walking by ourselves over Hartsop Dodd and Gray Crag. After two sociable days I felt energised and on much better form that I had been for three months. It felt good to be walking with just my partner in life and hiking. It stayed dry but we had to shelter from the bitingly cold wind when we stopped for lunch and we were wearing many more layers than we had the day before. Back at the Blue Bus we enjoyed a mug of tea and a slice of cake before driving home.
Our final walk of the week was along Morecambe’s stunning promenade to Heysham with two inland Lancashire friends who had been missing the sea. The sun shone once again and the nattering never stopped. A particular delight on our walk was Glebe Garden, next to St Peter’s Church. The garden was packed with colour and buzzing with insects and butterflies in the sunshine.
We have more walking with friends days planned over the coming week during our countdown to returning to camping. I have taken a few big steps out of the mind-numbing Lock Down Three rut I was in and it is starting to feel a bit like normal!
Some of my time in Lock Down One was spent writing about two impressive European cycle rides for a new DK Eyewitness book, Ride: Cycle The World. Writing about two very different cycle routes took me back to trips to stunning inland Spain and historic Germany. Austria and Hungary. I hope my contribution inspires others to pack a saddle bag and pedal into the distance.
Ride: Cycle The World came out in April 2021 and features 100 amazing cycle routes from across the globe, 32 of them in Europe. This is the book that could inspire you to grab your bike and cycle some ups and down from the south of Wales to the north or around the dramatic Applecross Peninsular. Maybe Paris to the magical tidal island of Mont St-Michel appeals to you or just packing a couple of t-shirts, shorts and sun cream for some summer cycling between the island of Croatia that sit in the turquoise-blue Adriatic. Further afield the epic rides featured include Bolivia’s infamous Death Road and island hopping in Japan.
Each contributor has written about what they know. The 1,228 km Danube Cycle Route from the source in Germany to Hungary’s Budapest is a classic ride that takes cyclists through five memorable countries and three capital cities, connecting a diversity of peoples and landscapes. It can be completed in one long ride or [like us] in sections. A largely traffic-free cycle path, this is a perfect bikepacking trip for beginners; you are always pedalling downstream and the river’s banks burst with significant and fascinating places making the really tough part fitting everything in! Popular with Germans and worldwide there will always be another cyclist to chat to over a beer or a coffee and share riding adventures. Should you be unlucky and have a breakdown, there is always a passing experienced cyclist with a better tool kit than you!
My second route was a shorter but equally wonderful cycle ride through inland Spain. At 129 km you could cycle the Ojos Negros Via Verde downhill and in a day if you are in a rush but I prefer the less hurried uphill version. Climbing steadily inland from lush Valencian orange groves through changing scenery and charming small towns, the Ojos Negros take the cyclist to Teruel, a World Heritage Site. The via verde or greenway follows a disused railway line and is pleasurable leisurely cycling through attractive off-the-beaten-track Spain. Teruel is the place to immerse yourself in Aragon’s Mudéjar Art. This elegant fusion of Islamic art and European-Christian styles flourished from the 12th to 17th centuries and is characterized by intricate geometric patterns of terracotta bricks and glazed tiles. Teruel has three outstanding Mudéjar towers and the Cathedral’s decorative wooden ceiling is the Sistine chapel of Mudéjar art.
A fantastic book to buy for yourself if you’re looking for inspiration for your first bikepacking adventure, this is also the perfect gift for any intrepid cyclist in your life. As well as descriptions of each ride, maps and practical information the book includes tips for the best places to eat and not-to-be-missed highlights and practical guides to help you choose a bike and the kit you need.